Focusing on the First-Time BuyerMarket for 15 Successful Years

Greater Midwestern Development was one of the first builders to forsee the tremendous growth in population and business activity in the Fox Valley area of Chicago's far west suburbs. Seeing a great opportunity in a huge potential home buying market, GMD managing partner Jim Oehlberg began developing what was to become The Colony, one of the area's first residential communities. In the past 15 years, GMD has built over 2,000 single-family, attached single-family and duplex homes in Aurora and Naperville, in subdivisions such as Eagle Trace, The Colony, Spring Hill, Estates of Colony Lakes, and The Woodlands. GMD's most current community is Arrow Wood, in west Aurora.

Then, as now, GMD has targeted the first-time buyer, building homes at affordable prices without sacrificing quality. While many builders choose to move up to move-up buyers, GMD has found a profitable market niche that it intends to stay with.

"Our strength in this market is in that we can still offer semi-custom homes under $200,000," notes Sandra Kanakes, Vice President of Sales and Marketing. "After looking all over the area, buyers are always surprised I at how much home we can give them for their money. As if anticipating a recurring question, Kanakes hastens to add that, "Yes, all of our homes are carpenter built. Many potential home buyers who come into our sales office and see the prices think we must build prefab homes. That's what they have come to expect in lower-priced production homes."

Kanakes says the "secret" lies in simply keeping costs down by finding the best quality materials at the right price, eliminating waste in every aspect of construction, and hiring the most competent, experienced people for the job.

"We run a tight ship," she says. "We have a small but vastly experienced staff. Each one has complete responsibility for their job and is given the authority to make day-to-day decisions, because they're the ones on-site with the best understanding of what it takes to get the job done. We've eliminated layers of supervisors and managers to carry out what has proven to be a very efficient way to build homes."

Buyers are pleasantly surprised to find that, at such affordable prices, GMD has not only maintained the highest level of qualit,v, but also that floor plans are designed for today's lifestyle and can be semi-customized. Amenities and features that are in demand by today's home buyer are readily available in GMD's models.

The 2,200 sq.ft. Sequoia for example, Arrow Wood's best seller (priced from the $150s), features a standard three-car garage, oversize master bedroom and luxurious master bath suite. The floor plan also includes a first-floor den/office in response to the trend toward home-based businesses.

"We keep a careful watch on not just the home buying mar ket, but on lifestyle trends in general," Kanakes explains. "We incorporated a home office area into the Sequoia because we know that a lot of people are able to buy their first home because they've grown a successful business out of a corner of their rented apartment."

"I don't like to tell someone they can't buy a home," Kanakes asserts. "And it's rare that I have to say that. If a buyer sincerely wants to buy a GMD home, we can almost always find a way to get them into it.

The key, says Kanakes, is having experienced salespeople who are well-versed in finding the right financing for each individual buyer. GMD has built strong relationships with a number of area banks and mortgage lenders to find plenty of financing options and programs available for all kinds of buyers. Kanakes relates that she has sold homes to many customers who were casually dismissed by other builders and loan officers who either didn't have the necessary financing know-how, or didn't want to take the time to work with a home buyer with a less-than-perfect credit history.

"Even bankruptcies can be worked around," she says. "We work with lenders who recognize that credit reports don't always tell the whole story." Kanakes says she has had to turn down only five or six families in the past year - and sold over 90 homes through almost as many types of financing.

The first-time home buyer is the most apprehensive one. Kanakes and her sales staff put in tireless effort to ease buyers' fears to make the homebuilding experience a pleasant one. It begins the moment a buyer walks in the front doors of the sales office and doesn't really ever end. There's no "hard sell" at Arrow Wood, no canned sales pitch. First, because it simply isn't necessary - the homes' quality and prices sell themselves. And second, because GMD treats each buyer as an individual, recognizing that each has unique financing and/or lifestyle needs.

"You know, you essentially 'live' with your buyer throughout construction, even more so with first-time buyers," Kanakes points out. "They have hundreds of questions; they have dozens of decisions to make."

To make home building easier for buyers, GMD's sales people start by carefully explaining each phase of construction. "We give them more information than they'll ever need!" Kanakes says. And instead of asking buyers to make fixture, color and other "detail decisions" up front, they make those decisions throughout the construction process. Most importantly, flexibility is built into every schedule.

"As the saying goes, you can't fit a square peg in a round hole," Kanakes points out. "People do change their minds. There's no need to decide what color carpet we're going to put in six months before we have to order it." As long as changes don't affect the home structurally or dramatically increase the budget, subcontractors and the design staff have the expertise to make modifications and minor changes to ensure the customer is completely satisfied with the finished product.

Buyers get added assurance with a 10-year home warranty from Professional Warranty Corp., offered through Zurich Life Insurance Co. - one of the largest insurers in the world. Oehlberg and Kanakes see almost unlimited potential in the home buying niche they have successfully targeted for over 15 years. Greater Midwestern Development's commitment to providing quality-built, affordable homes, and building trust between buyer, lender and seller, will conhnue to fulfill the promise of the American Dream for both today's and tomor row's buyers.

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Daniel M. Nugara, President and Publisher
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